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BOL plebiscite funds available, says Diokno

Allocation included in maintenance and other operating expenses in 2018 GAA, 2019 proposed expenses, according to budget chief
BOL plebiscite funds available, says Diokno

RALLYING SUPPORT Residents in Maguindanao province join a caravan to show support for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. —JEOFFREY MAITEM

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Tuesday said the plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) had “adequate funding and will push through as planned.”

Diokno issued the statement after House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. claimed that the proposed P3.757-trillion national budget for 2019 had no allocation for the BOL plebiscite, which will be held on Jan. 21 and Feb. 6.

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“In the 2018 General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP), P111.8 million and P95.8 million are allocated, respectively, under maintenance and other operating expenses for the conduct and supervision of elections, referenda, recall votes and plebiscites in the budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec),” the budget chief said.

“Furthermore, the Comelec has prior years’ continuing appropriations (from 2015 to 2017), amounting to P409.5 million as of end-September 2018, which they can tap to cover the funding requirements of the plebiscite,” he said.

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’Misplaced statement’

“To appease concerns that there is not enough money for the Bangsamoro plebiscite, the Comelec may also request for more funding through the contingent fund, subject to approval of the Office of the President,” Diokno said.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo also belied Andaya’s claim.

“In the first place, if there were no funds, then the plebiscite would have been canceled or reset. So obviously, the plebiscite is pushing ahead, so there are funds,” Panelo told reporters in a briefing.

On Andaya’s statement that Diokno had wasted efforts of the administration to gain lasting peace in Mindanao, Panelo said this was a “misplaced statement and without basis.”

He said Andaya was probably “misinformed.”

Diokno, in his statement, said: “We want to give peace a chance in the Bangsamoro region, and we are prepared and willing to fund this exercise to the fullest.”

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Duterte support

Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte would go to Cotabato City on Friday to rally support for the BOL.

The President will attend a peace assembly for the ratification of the BOL at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
(ARMM) office in Cotabato City, three days before the first of two plebiscites in Mindanao on Jan. 21.

“The President’s voice is a powerful influencing voice,” Panelo said.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) drafted the BOL that was signed by President Duterte in July last year. The law was anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2016 after almost four decades of conflict that claimed over 120,000 lives, including civilians.

Once ratified, the BOL will establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to replace the 28-year-old ARMM.

The plebiscite is set on Jan. 21 for all areas under the ARMM and Isabela City in Basilan and Cotabato City. A plebiscite is also set on Feb. 6 for voters in Lanao del Norte, six towns in North Cotabato and other areas that petitioned for inclusion in the future BARMM.

Voice of the people

Panelo said the government was hopeful the BOL would be supported by the people as he stressed that Mr. Duterte nevertheless “will abide by whatever decision of the voters there.”

“The President cannot do anything but to comply with the sovereign voice of the people in Mindanao,” he said.

Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs and chair of BTC, said the matter of funding for the plebiscite was not discussed during a meeting with Comelec in Manila on Monday.

“The discussions focused on the preparations for the plebiscite,” he said.

Officials from the Comelec, BTC, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Philippine National Police attended the meeting.

High expectations

Jaafar said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had assured him that there was no problem with the budget for the plebiscite.

Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, said his group was “moving tooth and nail to campaign for the ratification of the BOL.”

Lawyer Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Cotabato City-based think tank, Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said he was more worried about the prospects of lack of appropriation for the implementation of the BOL, especially on the first year of transition.

“If this will come true, high expectations on the BOL cannot be met,” he said.

The MILF will lead the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) once the BOL is ratified. The MILF central committee has endorsed MILF chair Murad Ebrahim to lead the BTA that will serve as a parliamentary government until regular elections are held in 2022. —WITH REPORTS FROM BONG SARMIENTO AND JULIE ALIPALA

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Organic Law, Benjamin Diokno, BOL plebiscite, DBM, Department of Budget and Management
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